About the National Financial Capability Study

The financial landscape in the United States continues to go through rapid changes both in terms of the greater responsibility placed on consumers to manage their financial well-being and the greater complexity and variety of tools and financial products available in this effort.

Managing one’s finances is a complex set of challenges in the best of the times, requiring a combination of skills, judgment and resources. In today’s volatile economic environment, the challenges are especially acute and the downside risks are great. Individuals and families must grapple with a bewildering variety of financial decisions, ranging from choosing a bank and managing various kinds of debt to planning for retirement and purchasing insurance. Even the simplest of these decisions requires at least some basic financial knowledge and competency, while the more complicated decisions are challenging even for experts.

In consultation with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and President Bush’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy, the FINRA Investor Education Foundation commissioned the first national study of the financial capability of American adults in 2009. The overarching research objectives of the National Financial Capability Study were to benchmark key indicators of financial capability and evaluate how these indicators vary with underlying demographic, behavioral, attitudinal and financial literacy characteristics. The 2012 Study — similarly developed in consultation with the U.S. Department of the Treasury, other federal agencies and President Obama’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability — aims to update key measures from the 2009 Study and to deepen exploration of topics that are highly relevant today (e.g., student loans and medical debt).

Financial capability cannot be measured simply by looking at one indicator, such as demonstrated knowledge of specific terms or concepts. Instead, financial capability encompasses multiple aspects of behavior relating to how individuals manage their resources and how they make financial decisions (including the factors they consider and the skill sets they use). It is a multi-dimensional concept that requires looking at individual behavior from various angles.

The 2012 Study reveals interesting changes in key measures of financial capability over the three-year period since the baseline Study was completed, but it also reinforces the original finding that financial capability varies greatly by socio-economic status and other demographics, and that many Americans struggle to make ends meet, plan ahead and make optimal financial decisions.

In the interest of greater exploration of these topics, the FINRA Investor Education Foundation has made datasets, questionnaires, and other research documents available to researchers and policy makers in our Data and Downloads section.

Methodology

The National Financial Capability Study (NFCS) was funded by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation and conducted by Applied Research and Consulting.

National and state-level findings are based on data from the 2012 and 2009 NFCS State-by-State Surveys, each of which were nationwide online surveys of over 25,000 American adults. Findings from the survey are weighted to be representative of Census distributions according to the American Community Survey. National figures are weighted to be representative of the national population in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, education and Census Division. State figures are weighted to be representative of each state in terms of age, gender, ethnicity and education.

Military findings are based on 1,000 military service members from the Military Survey, supplemented by 301 military service members from the State-by-State Survey. Military figures are weighted to approximate the military population by gender, pay grade, and active vs. reserve component, based on the Department of Defense’s 2010 Demographics Report.

For more on methodology, please download the relevant methodology documents in our Data and Downloads section.

Data and Downloads

To access datasets, questionnaires and other related documents, visit our data and downloads section.

Read the National and Military Reports from the 2012 NFCS

Download National Findings Download Military Findings